Dvorak drives a truck over the OLPC XO-1

Now with free carrying case.

How did I miss this? One of our favorite curmudgeons, John C. Dvorak, hits the nail right on the head with his assessment of the OLPC — send $200 of rice to poor countries, not a $200 computer. The inventors and backers of the OLPC project trust and believe in education as a way out of dire circumstances. Fine, but isn’t a laptop a bit useless if you don’t have clean water or a well-funded school in your town? The question is not whether or not kids need computers — they do — but whether this effort ignores more prevalent structural problems within a country.

In a report by 60 Minutes last week, they showed the OLPC in Brazil, where they are planning on handing out one to every school child. Fine. Good stuff. Sao Paolo and Paducah, Kentucky could probably both use a few laptops for the kids to use, ensuring that the poverty in fairly developed nations stops at Generation Z.

Other countries aren’t so lucky.

Of course, it might be a problem if there is no classroom and he can’t read. The literacy rate in Niger is 13 percent, for example. Hey, give them a computer! And even if someone can read, how many Web sites and wikis are written in SiSwati or isiZulu? Feh. These are just details to ignore.

Apparently, saying anything negative about the OLPC XO-1 computer amounts to heresy in this community. You may as well promote NAMBLA or the KKK. People don’t want to consider the possibility that their well-meaning thoughts are a joke and that a $200 truckload of rice would be of more use than Wi-Fi in the middle of nowhere. There seems to be a notion that the poor in Africa or East Asia are just like the kids in East Palo Alto. Once they get a laptop, there will be no digital divide, will there? People can say, “I did my part!”

Amen, brother. I saw an OLPC at the Techcrunch 40 conference and the wonk who was using it turned it on and it started braying like a goat. Seriously. If you want to make a difference, send food, not laptops. Let teachers and educators figure out when and where laptops are necessary.

One Laptop Per Child Doesn’t Change the World [PCMag]